Running And The Christian Spiritual Life

ING RUN

ING RUN (Photo credit: sophiea)

I am still running and training for the Dallas Marathon. This year, I am trying not to let my spiritual life take a back seat to my running. Here are a few things that have helped.

Community Bible Experience – Take the New Testament, remove all of the chapter and verse identification, as well as the footnotes and cross references. Then read for 20-30 minutes a day for five days a week. Then discuss with a small group on a weekly basis. This is the recipe for the Community Bible Experience that seeks to get people reading scripture with the spirit and purity of the early church. In addition, when ordering the materials for the Experience, you are sent MP3s for each daily reading. This has become my ritual on my training runs. I have gone through an entire gospel on a long run. The richness of some of these scriptures has been breathtaking.

2GB W Series Walkman – Meb Edition – This headset is an MP3 player that requires no wires and doesn’t have to be plugged into another source. It charges fast and keeps its charge for a long time. I have listened to all of my daily readings (see above) using this device and it has been great. This will be a common companion on my runs. The one drawback is that it doesn’t want to stay in my ears. I have to stuff the back strap into my hat or headband to keep it in my ears. An extra highlight is the prerecorded running advice from U.S. Olympic medalist runner Meb Keflezighi.

Lord’s Prayer – After I listen to 30-40 minutes of scripture, I usually shut off the Walkman and pray. Immersing myself in scripture is a great way to set my heart right for prayer. Praying the Lord’s Prayer in this manner has been enriching. Each part of the prayer seems to have focus and power behind it. I have always seemed to pray better when I am moving around.

Psalm 23 – Following the Lord’s Prayer, I recite the 23 Psalm. In the context of my running, lines such as, “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake,” are suddenly a  living object lesson. Almost every line can be connected to an aspect of running and the 23 Psalm becomes my running prayer. “He leads me beside the still waters…” is not just a comfort but a promise that I will have relief from the hurt and suffering I am feeling during the run.

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek – I have been a fan of Jurek since I read Born to Run. His free spirit mixed with an obsessive compulsive attention to detail reminds me a little of myself. He lays all of this out in his book on running and vegetarianism. Jurek mixes Eastern ideas such as bushido (emptying the mind) with New Age ideas such as discovery the power within. It obviously has worked for him (he runs 100 mile races and wins them) but the book ended with a level of sadness and uncertainty that I am not sure can be fixed by reliance on the self. Instead of being inspired by Jurek to try out these ideas, I have become more convinced that the power that I have (Christ within me) is all that I need (and more than I need) to provide the mental and spiritual power to run marathons. I won’t ever match the caliber of Jurek’s successes but his quest for running nirvana is fleeting and misguided and I feel led to counter it.

“3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse – The first time I heard this song on my MP3 player, I couldn’t make out what it was. It sounded familiar but it was not a common listen of mine. Then the controlled energy of the song mixed with the cosmically grandiose lyrics about the beginning and end of the world took me to the sadness of the Garden of Eden but sprinkled in a radiant hope that surprised me. My interpretation of the song is probably not even close to how it was intended but does that really matter if I am so inspired and moved by the end result?

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

Scripture Reading While You Run

Like last fall, I am training for the Dallas Marathon.* Though I try to find training programs that limit my mileage to a manageable number there is still no substitute for putting in the running miles.

Pray-As-You-Go 1

Pray-As-You-Go 1 (Photo credit: Church of the Redeemer)

The best audio version/podcast of scripture that I have found is Pray-as-You-Go. It is on iTunes and can be downloaded off the web. I place it on my iPod and listen to multiple days’ readings, sometimes multiple times (a Job passage was particularly powerful today but not yesterday). The format consists of a song (anything from Bach to Ladysmith Black Mambazo), followed by a call to prayer, a short reading of scripture, and then a prayer as you hear the reading a second time. Each day’s podcast last between 10-12 minutes.

Pray-As-You-Go is produced by a Jesuit group so the tone might be a bit more contemplative than many are used to but I always find myself engaged with the reading in a powerful way. I look forward to many of my runs because I know I am going to be fed the word and experience God in a unique way. If you have a long commute, spend time on a treadmill or exercise bike, or are more of an auditory person, Pray-As-You-Go can keep you in touch with the word of God and spark a prayerful consideration of his work in your life.

Here is a sample from this week: http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/mp3/PAYG_121003.mp3

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

Re-Hacked #4: Slow Burn

To mark the one-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog, I am re-posting some of my favorite posts from the past year. This post first appeared on Oct. 28.

Lakeland 15 mile road race - held at Tyrrellsp...

Image by Peter Mooney via Flickr

The biggest mistake a beginner in any new venture can make is starting too hard and too fast. In our zeal for getting started and our grand imaginations about what we are able to handle, so many of us start a new thing way over our head. We get up at 5 a.m. to workout even though we haven’t gotten up that early in 12 years; we start a blog even though we barely have the time to respond to emails; we read three chapters of our Bible when one would have been just fine. What marathon training has taught me is the idea of slow progress.

I know one lady at my work that has completed a marathon who, when she began running, set her goal to simply run to the next light post. How do you go from running as far as the next light post to running 26.2 miles? Slow progress. I didn’t start my training by running a 10K, instead I started running for 20 minutes and some of that was walking as I focused on maintaining a certain heart rate. Most training programs call for building miles upon mile until you are able to run 15-20 miles. But you do not get there unless you first can run that first mile.

So many Christians need to take to their spiritual practices like they would a marathon training program. Maybe their “light post” strategy should be to memorize one verse once a week or read five verses every other day or pray intently for one minute. Once you complete this small effort, you add on one thing that is doable and then after you do this, you change up the plan to keep it interesting. Savor your slow growth in Christ. It took the disciples three years to understand who Jesus was and how they could serve like him. Jesus was patient with them, he will be patient with you. Start small and grow. It is the best way to becoming who you want to become.

What I Missed While Doing All That Running

Though I have talked at length about the spiritual benefits of training for a marathon, there were many aspects of my spiritual life that I either neglected or simply couldn’t get to because I was in training. Here is a list of things that I look forward to now that I have a little more extra time and energy:

1. Reading my Bible – Of course I read my Bible when I was in training but it wasn’t consistent. I have had a desire for a long time to discover the Bible in a fresh way. I would suspect that this journey to discovery will appear on this blog occasionally.

2. Sleep – I believe that sleep is a spiritual discipline in the same way that fasting or the Sabbath are spiritual disciplines. Getting more rest is our way of saying that we do not have to conquer the world because it will still be there when we wake up. I have a problem with overdoing and undersleeping. I hope to get more rest in the coming months.

3. Quality Recreational Reading – One way that I remove myself from the busy and mind jumbling environment of work is to take a book of fiction and get out of the building where I work and read during my lunch break. Being a committed marathon trainee, I spent most of my extra reading time on books on running and marathons. I look forward to finishing life redeeming works of fiction such as Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.

Running The Race: To The Finish

On Dec. 4 I ran in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Over the last several weeks, I have provided my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

The marathon is done and I finished it in a little over five hours. My dad asked me if it was the hardest thing that I have ever done? As I was laying in the passenger seat and loopy from the run and the pain that I was experiencing, I couldn’t think of anything else that was harder. Now, with a few days to reflect, I still can’t think of anything harder but I can think of some important lessons that I learned. These are lessons that are important not just for running a marathon but also making it through any difficult moment in your life.

Lesson #1 – You need help – I would say that about 60 percent of the runners had someone to run with or at least had a someone they knew at the start with them. These people were able to smile and joke and distract each other with mindless conversation. I had trained alone and intended to race alone until I heard about the Clif Pace Team. My dad had encouraged me to find people to run with because he knew that it would make it easier. I had heard good things about the Pace Team so I planned on finding the 5 hour pace team at the start. I was able to meet one of the other runners on the Pace group and just having someone to chat with on occasion during the race was a big help. But I really didn’t learn this lesson until around mile 18. At this point, I started to have cramps in my lower thigh. I didn’t expect this kind of set back with still so much farther to go and I was beginning to stress out. I ran up to my new Pace group friend, who had run in some marathons before. I asked him if he had any advice for leg cramps. A lady who was running with us, heard my comment and was nice enough to give me some of her electrolyte pills. I don’t know if they helped but at a time when everyone was just trying to survive, her service to me was beyond generous.

Don’t expect your spiritual life to make it through difficult times without help from others. No matter how strong you are, there are some things that only other people can bring to you.

Lesson #2  – Endurance Brings Clarity – You would think that running gives one a lot of time to pray and meditate on God. Maybe for some people but just as when I am sitting still, my mind rarely stays focus enough to finish a prayer. I have been on many a run when I have tried to make it through the Lord’s Prayer and lose my train of thought and never finish it. That was not the case at about  mile 21. I was so wasted from the exertion and the pain that I probably said the most cohesive and direct version of the Lord’s Prayer I have ever uttered. Other prayers that I voiced over and over were “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and “I am one in whom Christ dwells.” I needed that last one to tap in to some strength and courage that I didn’t think I had.

Lesson #3 – Trust – Along this journey to becoming a marathon finisher, I had recognized God’s role in bringing me along. I had prayed for good health so as not to miss a workout and that was answered. I had seen validation of my quest in people who I met and things that I had heard other’s say. I had received a great pouring out of abundance from people wanting to donate to Scottish Rite in honor of our daughter. I had received unexpected notoriety from a newspaper article that included me in a story about first time runners. God was making these things happen for a reason and I was becoming more and more sure of it as the weeks went by. But then a collection of circumstances began to surface that were very unwelcome.

First, Thursday night, I started to come down with a head cold. My nose was getting very congested and the good health that I had experienced throughout my training was fading. Second, the weather forecast for Sunday was getting bleaker and bleaker by the day. Early in the week it looked like a high in the upper Forties with a 40% chance of rain but by Saturday, the chance of rain had moved to 100% with a high barely reaching 43.  I had only run in rain once in all of my training and that was not when it was 40 degrees. Running a marathon was not something that I had ever done before and then here were these two situations which were a part of my worst case scenario. I reached the point where worrying and fretting wasn’t going to be very productive.

It is in situations like this where God always comes in and reminds me that he can be trusted, that he is who he says he is, and that my only choice is to lean on him. I couldn’t do anything about the weather and how my body was going to hold up under the strain of the marathon was a complete uncertainty. I had to trust God that he had brought me to this point for a reason and that he wasn’t going to leave me alone. The race became less about me and more about God’s work through me. Which is the way it should be. The race taught me to find the place where I should have been all along – in ruthless trust of my savior Jesus Christ.

Running the Race: Running For Joy

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

This week is race week. There is no cramming for the marathon. Whatever I have accomplished in my training to this point will have to suffice. In this space, I have talked quite a bit about what I have done in my training and it is obvious that I will be the one who will complete the race (or not). But I started this entire quest in honor of my daughter, Joy, and the great work of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. I have to restrain myself from making this all about me because Joy is my inspiration.

Joy, now three, was born with a Cleft Lip and Palate. Her first surgery on her lip occurred when she was three months old and her palate was worked on when she was eight months old. After her palate surgery, she was in too much pain to eat and stayed that way for an excruciatingly long four to five days. At four months, she was placed in the hospital because of pneumonia and for several weeks afterwards, we had to feed her through a tube to avoid milk entering her lungs.

When she was a year old, we had her examined at Scottish Rite for possible curvature of the spine. Sure enough, she had infantile scoliosis and we started treating her and will continue, no doubt, throughout her childhood. For more than four months, she was placed in a cast that went from her hips to her shoulders. Now, she wears a brace that can come on and off but there is no sign of her getting out of the brace anytime soon. I haven’t even mentioned the eye surgery she had or the hernia surgery or the two additional palate surgeries.

I call her a professional patient because she knows her way around a doctor’s office and lets most everything just run its course without too much of a fuss or problem. When she was two, she got a flu shot and didn’t even cry. She is tough, smart, cute, and funny. She lives up to her name and has captured the heart of many who have been around her. I am running for Joy. She is my inspiration. I figure that my five hours of running is the least I can do to honor her, the rest of my family, and other kids that need medical care.

So, if I finish the marathon, congratulate me for a job well done but don’t forget the little girl who has already made it through the equivalent of about ten marathons’ worth of medical procedures and surgeries. Joy deserves the attention and pats on the back much more than I do.

Update: Joy and I were featured in the Life section of the Dallas Morning News yesterday. They did a story about first time White Rock runners. The story even mentioned the blog. If you have an online subscription, you can read it here.

Running The Race: Suffering Laboratory

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Training for any serious athletic endeavor is like entering into a laboratory for suffering. Each day is another opportunity to test physical suffering and determine what I am able to manage and overcome, as well as finding my suffering limitations. Some days, suffering is a welcomed ingredient to the training, met with respect and a healthy acknowledgement while other days, suffering seems the most important thing in the world to avoid. But any serious runner will tell you that you cannot avoid suffering and still reach your goals. You don’t complete a marathon on the back of an avoidance of suffering. You have to meet suffering face to face if you want to make progress in your training.

My marathon training has taught me about embracing suffering and difficulty. It has become a daily challenge to find the one moment when I tell myself I can do one more squat or one more sprint interval or tackle this hill one more time. And what do I discover through this suffering? Maybe nothing in the moment but the things I regularly do in today’s training, I thought were impossible two weeks ago. Suffering is necessary to move to the next stage in my training.

The biggest myth among Christians is that their faith will remove emotional and physical suffering from their life.  But this is counter to what Jesus said. He said that in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33) and that whoever wants to follow him must take up their cross (Mark 8:34) and those who want to be first must be last (Matt. 20: 16). Modern western Christians seem to want to try to avoid suffering at all costs but suffering is apparently an important aspect of your spiritual growth. Peter includes perseverance in his great list of add-ons to the faith (2 Peter 1:6). Growth and progress in the Christian life benefits from mountain top experiences and moments of spiritual highs but it excels when it has to work through suffering and endure through an experience where God’s presence isn’t just welcomed but a necessity.

As hard as the pain you are experiencing in your life may be, God is using that experience to refine you and mold you into the person he intends for you to be. We have to work through the pain just like a marathoner has to work through the discomfort and strain of training. There are rewards at the end of  both of these journeys. You just have to endure.

Running the Race: Training Not Trying

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Rostock-Marathon bei Schmarl, Rostock

Image via Wikipediaspiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Yesterday, I completed a 14 mile training run. This was the longest run that I have completed. I completed it without a whole lot of trouble, pain, or suffering. It seemed to be a natural progression of my previous training.

One quick search on the web for “marathon training” will give you hundreds and hundreds of links to training programs. There may be more training programs than there are marathons to run. Doing this search, it becomes obvious that training is an essential part of completing and excelling in a marathon. No one tries to complete a marathon without training first. The process is training not trying.

This should be the same principle in our spiritual life – training not trying. Have you ever tried to be a better person? Have you tried to be more loving or more compassionate, or more giving? Whenever I am left to my trying I realize that my trying has a short shelf life. Gritting my teeth and straining to be a better person never works over the long haul. Just as gritting my teeth and straining to run 14 miles without the proper training would have left me wasted at about mile 4, straining to be more Christlike without the proper training will leave me guilt ridden and down on myself.

James Bryan Smith, in his book The Good and Beautiful God, details a spiritual growth pyramid that places the narratives of Jesus at the top point, participating in community at the right point, and soul-training exercises at the left point, with the Holy Spirit in the middle.  Smith points out that all of these elements must work together to create a transformed person. Many Christians just focus on right thinking and community and leave off the training aspect. This alone will not create a Christlike person. Others focus on only the Holy Spirit and think that the rest will take care of itself. Spiritual exercises puts your thinking into practice and makes your time in community more meaningful.

Training is essential to completing a marathon and essential to growing spiritually. We do not try harder to be like Christ we train intentionally in the context of right thinking and a loving Christian community.

Running The Race: The Testing Ground

USMC Marathon

Image via Wikipedia

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

As a librarian by trade, I read frequently and find it easy to locate information on just about anything. So naturally, while training for the marathon, I have been doing a lot of reading and research on training techniques, race day strategies, and personal marathon experiences. But sometimes I have found myself more interested in reading about marathon training and running than actually training and running. I guess I enjoy making workout plans and learning about new techniques more than training itself. The fact of the matter is, the only way to test whether or not these plans and strategies work is to test them out in your training and running. Running is the testing ground for anything I read and research. I have to take what I have learned and put it to the test in my own experience, otherwise it is just words on a page.

Have you put Jesus’ teachings and the spiritual life to the test? Have you studied the Sermon on the Mount or I Corinthians 13 and put it into action to see if it works? I dare you to try it. I don’t mean attending another Bible Study or reading another blog but actually putting the words of the New Testament and things like the Ten Commandments and Psalm 23 from the Old Testament into action and test the Christian life.

I can read about marathon running and pour over articles and blogs but it is only when I take what I have learned and act upon it that the knowledge that I gained has any power. It may be time for you, as a Christian, to get into training. Quit learning about Christ and God’s work of redemption without testing it out on the track of life. Come and see that the Lord is good.

Run The Race: Slow Burn

Fun runners taking part in the 2006 Bristol Ha...

Image via Wikipedia

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

The biggest mistake a beginner in any new venture can make is starting too hard and too fast. In our zeal for getting started and our grand imaginations about what we are able to handle, so many of us start a new thing way over our head. We get up at 5 a.m. to workout even though we haven’t gotten up that early in 12 years; we start a blog even though we barely have the time to respond to emails; we read three chapters of our Bible when one would have been just fine. What marathon training has taught me is the idea of slow progress.

I know one lady at my work that has completed a marathon who, when she began running, set her goal to simply run to the next light post. How do you go from running as far as the next light post to running 26.2 miles? Slow progress. I didn’t start my training by running a 10K, instead I started running for 20 minutes and some of that was walking as I focused on maintaining a certain heart rate. Most training programs call for building miles upon mile until you are able to run 15-20 miles. But you do not get there unless you first can run that first mile.

So many Christians need to take to their spiritual practices like they would a marathon training program. Maybe their “light post” strategy should be to memorize one verse once a week or read five verses every other day or pray intently for one minute. Once you complete this small effort, you add on one thing that is doable and then after you do this, you change up the plan to keep it interesting. Savor your slow growth in Christ. It took the disciples three years to understand who Jesus was and how they could serve like him. Jesus was patient with them, he will be patient with you. Start small and grow. It is the best way to becoming who you want to become.